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Asynchronous Development

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: I have a son who will be turning 5 years old in 3 months. He is our first child and when he was a baby, people used to comment on how alert he was. Even as a newborn he had this piercing look. He seemed to do everything early in the first year - "mama" and "dada" at 5 months old; first words "doll, ball, boot, button" at 9 months old; crawling 6 months; standing at 7 months; walking 11 months; over 30 words by his first birthday. He could sing nursery songs, knew his shapes and all his colours by 16 months old. At 2 years old could name all the planets in the solar system and could point out and name over 20 countries on a world map. Developed a large vocabulary early and has always used "big" or "mature" words for his age. He potty-trained quickly and easily and it was self-initiated.

At almost 5 years old he is more like every other child his age but I wonder if he has some asynchronous development. His speech is extremely clear, more like that of an older child and he uses mature words ("actually", "especially", "paleontologist", "ridiculous, etc.). He asks a lot of questions, talks compulsively, has an extremely vivid imagination, loves to play word games (rhyming, verbal word association, etc.). He can write his own name, knows his full name, birthday, names of every child in his class (21 students) and some of their last names. Likes to bargain verbally. His memory is impeccable...he still remembers things that happened years ago. He still knows the planets in the solar system, many countries on a world map, can name all the provinces of Canada by their provincial flag.

But he can be forgetful in his everyday life - misplacing things, forgetting things at school like his mitts, hat, lunch sack (he's in junior kindergarten). He sometimes gets frustrated easily when things don't go as expected, he also has a hard time when he is unable to do something or figure something out with a toy because of his own expectations. He doesn't deal with failure well. He has a hard time transitioning to new activities - becomes very engrossed with what he is doing. Questions authority (parents, daycare providers, not so much teachers but he will comply in a begrudging manner at times) - definitely likes to walk to his own tune. Loves music, remembers lyrics and songs, makes up own songs. Asks questions about the future, about God, heaven, strong interest in science and anatomy. Sometimes he can be emotionally hyper or immature acting very silly or saying silly things, laughing and being giddy. Other times he's very calm, focussed, and mature. His teacher says he is "sensitive" and "mature" but is still getting to know him and figure him out.

Any words of wisdom you can send my way? Any thoughts at all?

A: Asynchronous or uneven development refers to uneven intellectual, physical, and emotional development where intellectual development is always more advanced. The average development for children is when the intellectual, physical, and emotional development progresses at about the same rate (or “in sync”). More likely than not, gifted children tend to develop unevenly with their cognitive development way ahead of their physical and emotional development (“out of sync”). Their progression is not at the same rate and this may cause problems understanding the child.

Your son clearly shows advanced development and I noticed characteristics such as early developmental abilities, large and sophisticated vocabulary, good memory, perfectionism, heightened sensitivity, heightened curiosity, and probably a lot more that is not described here. These are distinct characteristics of gifted children. These children can also be like the “little absent minded professors”. There is probably so much going on for them cognitively that they may not be able to remember everything and then to forget simple things. It is also a fact that some gifted children can be quite disorganised - this may be seen later as he grows up. This is due to the quick paced minds of these children cognitively, making them busy thinking over thousands of things at one time. This reflects in their actions and behaviours and you may even find that their rooms can be rather disorganised. They often find school work rather easy and this causes them to do their school tasks quickly without much thought and this causes them to lack skills in time management, organisation, studying and sometimes prioritising. In fact, some of these children may have an inattentive disorder.

In your son's case, he appears to be showing signs of giftedness in a rather typical manner. I really don't see much of a concern here especially since you are aware of his advanced development. I believe you are doing the right things to help him develop further. You may need to do a lot of reading to further understand his needs, which I believe you would be doing. The only concern I see would be adult who may not understand him, especially his teachers due to his asynchronous development. You may need to see his teachers and help them understand him.

As for his cognitive development, you need to keep feeding his intellect and at the same time, help him grow emotionally. There are a lot of resources on giftedness and how to help a gifted child on the internet. That would be very helpful. Do look at the previous newsletter for some tips. Hope the above helped. All the best!.


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